18 Apr

Overdiagnosis of ADHD (and other learning disorders)

I stumbled across yet another piece about the possible over-diagnosis of ADHD. The link discusses the case of the US and I was shocked by the two stories. I am well familiar with a few economic articles that show that, indeed, there is an over-diagnosis of ADHD in the US (have a look at the work of Todd Elder and William Evans if you are into the topic). I am convinced by their scientific approach and their disturbing results. The link though gives a human face to it by describing specific cases.

Since I am interested in the topic, I wanted to do a similar analysis for the Netherlands. Then I started reading about how diagnosis here is given, and the more I was reading, the more my frustration was increasing. I also was interested in a few other learning disorders- such as dyslexia and dyscalculia. First of all, here a number of medical professionals can give you a diagnosis. You don’t really need to go through extensive tests, your teachers, friends and family will not necessarily be interviewed and consulted. And, here comes the bothersome part- sometimes parents and/or teachers might seek that a child is given a diagnosis simply because it means the school the pupil goes to can get extra funding. A few years ago a law was passed in the Netherlands, according to which a school gets additional finances for students with special needs. And how do you get the extra money? By a diagnosis. And if you are a parent, you act in the best interest of your child, and the child receiving extra care and access to special facilities is what many parents think is best for their children. Plus, it is always so easy to have the excuse “Oh, John has ADHD, that’s why he is like this.”  And to top it all, physicians (especially those in private clinics) do have incentives to prescribe diagnosis because in this way they can reimbursed. So what do we have in the end? Parents and teachers pushing for a diagnosis, and physicians more than willing to give them. This make of an extremely dangerous scheme if this diagnosis involves the prescription of any of the drugs used to treat the ADHD. Man, I can’t wait to get my hands on more data because let’s face it, in scientific research (especially at a PhD level), you hardly make great discoveries. But if you manage to actually prove that such a grave issue is real, that not only makes for a great paper, but somehow gives you this incredible satisfaction that what you are doing is, in fact, not completely useless and it can potentially, if not solve a problem, then raise some awareness and debate about it!!

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Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Learning disorders, Overdiagnosis


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